European Union Agrees To Brexit Deadline Extension
With just days to go before the end of the month, the European Union has agreed to another Brexit extension. Before we get there, though, thee's likely to be another General Election.
The European Union has agreed to the United Kingdom’s request for an extension on the deadline to complete the Brexit process, pushing the date from this coming Thursday to January 31, 2020, a change that makes it likely that we’ll see a new General Election before the end of the year:
BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed Monday to delay Britain’s exit date from the bloc to Jan. 31, once again postponing Brexit and potentially paving the way for a British general election beforehand.
The postponement came in response to a request from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was forced to ask for more time after Parliament shot down his effort to speed the country out of the European Union by the previous deadline of Oct. 31.
Johnson had said he would get Britain out of the bloc by then with or without a deal to buffer the economic turmoil expected to be set off by the departure. Parliament had different ideas, insisting on legal guarantees that Britain agree to a departure deal before exiting the European Union. It was the first of a string of legislative defeats for Johnson, who has been forced to go more slowly on Brexit than he had wanted.
Ambassadors from the 27 remaining E.U. members agreed Monday to postpone the departure date until the end of January, although Britain could still leave earlier if Parliament ratifies the separation deal ahead of time. In Europe’s jargon-loving precincts, that means Britain has received a “flextension.”
“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020,” European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday on Twitter. Ambassadors agreed to the deal without calling in national leaders for an in-person meeting, a sign that the decision ultimately was not especially controversial.
Leaders are tired of debating Brexit at a moment when many European economies are flagging, extreme parties are still nipping at their heels and many citizens just want to move on. But they also fear igniting an economic blaze by kicking Britain out of the bloc before it is ready.
Some European leaders view Britain’s continued membership in the bloc with significant wariness. Monday’s delay was granted on the condition that British representatives in the E.U. agree not to obstruct the body’s decision-making while they linger inside the club, as Johnson has at times threatened to do.
The EU has agreed to a Brexit extension to 31 January 2020, with the option for the UK to leave earlier if a deal is ratified, clearing the way for opposition parties to back a general election.
After a 30-minute meeting of European ambassadors, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said the EU27 had agreed to the request made by Boris Johnson just over a week ago.
He tweeted: “The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a new flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.”
The prime minister, who said he would rather die in a ditch than delay Brexit, is now under an obligation to agree to the terms, breaking his pledge to leave on 31 October, “no ifs, no buts … do or die”.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted:
“Relieved that finally no one died in a ditch. Whether the UK’s democratic choice is revoke or an orderly withdraw, confirmed or not in a second referendum, the uncertainty of Brexit has gone on for far too long. This extra time must deliver a way forward.”
Under the terms of the extension, the UK has three months more of EU membership but it can leave on the first day of any of those months if the withdrawal agreement is ratified in both Westminster and the European parliament in the meantime.
The EU has insisted it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement again. The UK also has “an obligation” to nominate a candidate to join the European commission. The prime minister has previously said he will not put forward a nominee.
By agreeing the extension through a written procedure, to be completed by Wednesday at the latest, EU leaders will avoid convening for a summit in Brussels.
Given the circumstances of the current situation, which includes the fact that Parliament has rejected Johnson’s latest attempt at a Brexit deal, that the deadline is only a few days away, and that Parliament passed legislation essentially forbidding a hard Brexit on Thursday, this extension was largely inevitable. What makes this one different from the last two extensions is the fact that it appears to allow the U.K. to exit before 31 January if Johnson can get a deal approved by Parliament before then. As recent events, as well as political developments in London, make clear, though, that’s going to be easier said than done. Now, Johnson will be required to find a deal that is acceptable to both Parliament and to the European Union.
Before we get there, though, there is most likely going to be another General Election before the end of the year. The prospect of any agreement on a Brexit deal without one is basically non-existent, to be honest, and Johnson is obviously hoping that a decisive win by the Tories would give him the political consensus he needs to complete a deal. As things stand, the polling seems to indicate that he might be right. Current polling shows the Tories (34%) with a strong lead over Labour (24%) with other national parties such as the Liberal Democrats (17%) and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party (11%) pulling up the rear. The other major party in Parliament, the Scottish National Party (4%) continues to poll well in Scotland itself and is indicating that it would support a Parliamentary resolution calling for an early election.
Recently, Johnson has been talking about an election on December 12th, which would require calling an election to be called by November 12th. More recently, though, the Prime Minister has seemed to warm to a proposal by the Liberal Democrats to hold the election on December 9th, which would require an election to be called by November 9th. Before we get there, though, Johnson would be required to seek the agreement of Parliament.
Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act passed in 2011, the government must obtain a two-thirds vote of the House of Commons to call an election prior to the expiration of the current term of the government in 2022. Based on some reports, that may not be too difficult. The Scottish National Party appears to be ready to vote for such a resolution based on recent comments by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for example, and there have been signs that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour are open to the idea. All three parties, though, are saying that they will only agree to a new election if Johnson guarantees that there will not be a hard, no-deal, Brexit.
Once that formality is taken care of, Johnson could call a new election, set the date, and the campaign will begin. Depending on how it ends, we’ll either have the consensus that Johnson wants, a new government entirely (which seems like the least likely outcome right now), or it will be back to square one at which point the U.K. will be on the horns of a dilemma with roughly a month-and-a-half to go before another Brexit deadline.
Update: Parliament has, for now, rejected the Prime Minister’s call for elections on December 12th. However, both Labour is saying it would support such a motion if there was a guarantee that there will not be a hard Brexit.